Sam not big on centres

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

Sam Mitchell's anger came right from his centre.

And while the rookie coach had every reason to be concerned, anyone who has been around the Raptors for any length of time knows this is not a new dilemma.

The Raptors don't have a centre.

They really have had only one, Kevin Willis, in their history, if you're limiting the discussion to a combination of general reliability and seven feet of bulk.

"We have to find some interior defence somewhere," Mitchell said Tuesday, after his Raptors had lost 102-98 to the Denver Nuggets in an NBA pre-season game. The Raptors took on the Portland Trail Blazers here at the Rose Garden late last night.

"We have to have somebody on our team who will step up and guard someone without fouling them every time on the inside," Mitchell said. "Whoever that's going to be, that's who's going to play."

Technically, the Raptors have only two true centres on their roster: 7-foot-1 journeyman Loren Woods and 6-foot-11 raw rookie Rafael Araujo. The latter's most notable achievement on Tuesday was committing a flagrant foul that made Denver's Bryon Russell so mad, he had to be physically restrained by teammate Kenyon Martin.

Russell could be heard saying things like, "I'm going to f--- that kid up," and, "I can afford (the fine)." After the game, Russell said he didn't think Araujo made a play for the ball when he windmilled both arms down on to Russell's head and shoulders.

"I didn't mean to do that," Araujo said. "But I talked to the ref and he said that doesn't matter, because it looks like a flagrant foul. So I'm learning."

Was Araujo surprised Russell became so livid?

"I was turned away," Araujo said with a shrug. "I'm trying to compete, not trying to have a fight with anybody. I'm trying to play ball, take care of my business and go home."

Woods apparently went home mentally long before the game began. He registered zero points, zero rebounds, two turnovers and three fouls in 10 minutes.

What's more, Woods was one of three starters to be yanked by Mitchell midway through the first quarter -- the others were Jalen Rose and Morris Peterson -- after the Nuggets' big men had formed a conga line to the Raptors' basket.

True, the Raptors this week have been without marquee player Vince Carter, who is defending himself against a bizarre lawsuit filed by his former agent, convicted felon William (Tank) Black. But Mitchell was only half-joking when he said he never will get mad at players who don't feel like playing on a particular night, as long as those players let the coach know beforehand.

While veterans such as Rose and Peterson have secure jobs and likely found it hard to get motivated for exhibition game No. 6, there was no reason for Woods to be sleepwalking.

"This is the NBA, and I have a news flash for (my players)," Mitchell said. "The left-handed guy, Zach Randolph (of the Blazers), is just as good, if not better, than Kenyon Martin."

In other words, there are going to be big men in different coloured uniforms licking their chops every night at the thought of going up against these Toronto tots.

"The guys on the other teams are bigger, but we're taller and more athletic, you know?" said Mitchell, refusing to consider excuses. "This is not a boxing match, it's basketball. The referees are going to let you do only so much, but you have to give some force, you have to give some effort, you have to show some toughness."

Yes, for heaven's sake, show some toughness, in the name of Acie Earl and Benoit Benjamin and Sharone Wright and Aleks Radojevic and Mengke Bateer and Nate Huffman.

After all, a team with its middle unmanned is a team in the middle of nowhere.


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